Melissa “Missy” Hughes is secretary and CEO of WEDC, Wisconsin’s lead economic development organization.
Before joining WEDC in October 2019, she was general counsel and chief mission officer at Organic Valley.
Her previous positions include associate attorney at the firm of Holland & Hart, where she practiced in the areas of natural resources, construction litigation and corporate business transactions.
She served on the boards of the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Trade Association, where she was a three-term board president. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture appointed Hughes to the USDA Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Biotechnology in the 21st Century.
Hughes received her bachelor of arts in political science from Georgetown University and juris doctor degree from the University of Wyoming College of Law.
Sam Rikkers is deputy secretary and chief operating officer for WEDC. Prior to joining WEDC in November 2019, he served as strategic economic initiatives director at the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
Sam has an extensive background in rural development, both in the U.S. and internationally. He served in the White House from 2013 to 2014 as director on the energy and environment team in the Presidential Personnel Office, then was administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. Before returning to Wisconsin in 2017, he launched and led the Rural Opportunity Initiative of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.
In Wisconsin, he served as executive director or Tiny Earth, a global initiative based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, harnessing the research of undergraduate students to discover new antibiotics.
A native of Stoughton, Rikkers holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School, a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Macalester College. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.
Brian Nowicki is chief financial officer WEDC. He joined WEDC in December 2015, bringing to the position extensive experience in accounting, finance, portfolio management, cash management and budgeting in settings including government, nonprofit, real estate and higher education.
Prior to joining WEDC, Brian was controller at Madison College. From 1999 until 2014, he worked for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, first as a financial officer, then as a controller, and finally as senior manager of economic development. He has also worked as a valuation consultant for Baker Tilly Virchow Krause; as a financial analyst for Alliant Energy; and as an auditor for the National Futures Association in Chicago.
Brian holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a specialization in accounting, as well as a master’s degree in finance, investment and banking, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a certified public accountant and a chartered financial analyst. He is the chairman of the City of Madison Housing Strategy Committee and a board member for the Wisconsin Community Development Legacy Fund.
Financial compliance with WEDC award contracts
Accounting and financial reporting for governments
ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT, OFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, UW SYSTEM
WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
David Brukardt is associate vice president of economic development for the University of Wisconsin System, a position jointly funded by WEDC. In this position, he serves as the UW System’s lead economic development official, working to strengthen relationships between the UW System and businesses statewide, and to connect researchers among the various campuses to drive statewide economic growth.
Prior to assuming this position in June of 2012, David had 20 years of public affairs experience with global organizations and entrepreneurial startups. Most recently, he served as executive vice president of investor and corporate relations for Sterling Financial Corp. in Spokane, Washington.
David earned his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland and his undergraduate degree from Marquette University. He also graduated from the ABA National Banking School in Fairfield, Connecticut.
UW System economic development initiatives
WiSyS Foundation support for tech transfer and product commercialization on UW campuses statewide
UW System initiatives related to research, economic development and innovation
UW System/WEDC partnership on faculty and student talent development, innovation and job creation
Mary Gage is vice president of business and community development for WEDC. She assumed this role in July 2019. She has worked with WEDC, and previously with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, since 1996, in roles including economic development consultant, senior loan officer, director of business finance and compliance, regional account manager and senior economic development director.
Most recently, as senior economic development director with WEDC, Mary managed a team of seven regional economic development directors who are responsible for the delivery of WEDC programs to partners, businesses and municipalities.
Mary holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master of business administration degree from DePaul University.
She is a member of the Mid-America Economic Development Council and the Wisconsin Economic Development Association. She holds certifications from the International Economic Development Council (Certified Economic Developer), the National Development Council (Economic Development Finance Professional), Oklahoma University Economic Development Institute (certificate of completion) and the Wisconsin Enterprise Management Development Academy (completed one-year leadership program).
VICE PRESIDENT, ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND INNOVATION AND SECTOR STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT
WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Aaron Hagar is vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for WEDC.
Aaron previously served as WEDC’s senior technology investment manager, where he gained valuable experience helping technology-based Wisconsin companies achieve their growth potential. In more than four years with the agency, he has built strong relationships within the state’s entrepreneurial community, which will allow him to quickly advance ongoing efforts to support Wisconsin’s startups and innovation-based businesses.
Prior to joining the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, WEDC’s predecessor agency, in 2010, Aaron served as an economic development consultant in Minneapolis, where he worked with a coalition of government, business and community groups to develop policy recommendations to support community revitalization goals.
Aaron holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, with a focus on economic and workforce development, from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. He also holds a bachelor of science degree in medical microbiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Government and community networks’ roles in supporting the startup community
WEDC entrepreneurship and innovation strategy
Wisconsin investor tax credit program (QNBV)
WEDC program: Capital Catalyst, Seed Accelerator and Technology Development Loans
R&D to commercialization; analysis and summary of Wisconsin activities
Raising financing and requirements at the different stages of company development
Kelly Lietz is the vice president of marketing and brand strategy for WEDC.
Kelly has more than 20 years of public relations, marketing and brand development experience, including work for some of the world’s leading consumer and business-to-business brands.
Hired by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in 2012 to build a new business climate marketing capability for the state, Kelly has worked with statewide economic development partners to expand perceptions of Wisconsin to include an understanding of and preference for the unmatched opportunities the state offers for business, career and personal success.
Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in English and linguistics and a master’s degree in English with a linguistics concentration from UW−Milwaukee; as well as a master’s degree from Oklahoma City University in mass communications.
Anne Jesko is vice president of human resources with WEDC. In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of compensation and benefits administration, payroll, human resources information systems, corporate training, employee development, recruitment, employee relations and facilities.
To her work at WEDC, Anne brings more than 10 years of experience in talent management, employee engagement, recruitment and retention, employee relations, training and development, conflict management and performance management, among other areas of expertise.
Before joining WEDC, Anne was vice president human resources business partner with QBE-North America, a division of QBE Insurance Group Limited, one of the world’s 20 largest insurance and reinsurance companies with locations in 38 countries and 16,000 employees worldwide. Prior to that, she worked for Home Depot in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2013, first as a store human resource manager and then in district-level human resource manager positions.
Anne holds a bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Marian College in Fond du Lac.
VICE PRESIDENT, TECHNOLOGY AND INFORMATION SYSTEMS
WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Joshua Robbins is vice president of technology and information systems for WEDC. He joined WEDC in December 2011, and joined the executive staff in September 2015.
In his prior role as IT systems analyst, he was responsible for testing, building, maintaining and implementing WEDC’s IT systems. He also handled asset management efforts and research and development on new product lines; utilized project management skills to implement new software and systems; wrote documentation; was responsible for internal monitoring of all WEDC IT systems; and planned and developed IT security strategies for user security during international travel.
Joshua holds an associate’s degree in computer networking systems and a bachelor’s degree in information systems and cybersecurity, both from ITT Technical Institute in Madison.
Implementation of SaaS systems, risks vs. rewards
International travel security compliance: the balance between productivity and security
Customer service as an IT professional
Navigating the hardware landscape: picking the right endpoint machines for your organization
Kelliann Blazek is director of WEDC’s Office of Rural Prosperity, which was created in 2020 to ensure the needs of Wisconsin’s rural communities are aptly represented in the state’s economic development strategies and efforts.
Before joining WEDC, Kelliann was counsel for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, where she oversaw a policy portfolio including agriculture, rural development, forestry, trade and housing. She led the Congresswoman’s efforts to bolster new agricultural market opportunities and build more resilient rural economies through the annual appropriations process and in the 2018 Farm Bill. These efforts included building coalitions and developing federal legislation to support local and regional food economies, food waste reduction, climate-smart farming and organic agriculture.
Prior to that role, she worked on agriculture policy at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. Kelliann holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School and is a licensed attorney in the State Bar of Wisconsin. She grew up on her family’s farm near Bangor, Wisconsin.
VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Katy Sinnott is vice president of international business development with WEDC. In this role, she is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to grow Wisconsin’s economy through helping Wisconsin companies expand their exports and through attracting foreign direct investment in Wisconsin.
Katy has more two decades of business management and financial services experience, working in more than 40 countries with an emphasis on China. Before joining WEDC, she was the CEO and a board director for ERIC Paris Salons, a chain of salons based in China. Under her leadership as CEO, the company expanded from three salons to 38 in three years. At its peak, the company had revenues of $6 million and 450 employees.
Prior to that, Katy was a consultant in Hong Kong for McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. In this role, she oversaw the merger of two global television tube manufacturers spread across multiple continents and helped design a customer loyalty program for China’s second-largest oil company. Katy also held several positions in Hong Kong with HSBC Ltd., one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations. She is experienced in redesigning bank business processes and ensuring information services are business-driven.
A Wisconsin native, Katy holds a BS in finance from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. After college, she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong through Yale University, where she completed a nine-month intensive studies course in Mandarin. She is conversant in Chinese and French.
Foreign direct investment
Doing business in China
International business development
Country-specific export trends and opportunities
Barriers/opportunities facing companies that export
Amy has more than 14 years of economic development experience with the former Department of Commerce (now the WEDC). Prior to that, she worked in financial services and government relations. Young holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University−Carbondale and National Louis University−Evanston.
Michael Woicekowski serves as assistant to the secretary and director of special projects. He joined WEDC in November 2019.
Previously, he served as special projects liaison for the Wisconsin Department of Administration and for the Office of the Governor, and was a member of the transition team for Governor Tony Evers. Before that, he worked on several federal campaigns, including as Wisconsin finance director for U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and deputy finance director for former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and affairs with a minor in economics from American University.